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Film in review: “Thor: Ragnarok”

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Film in review: “Thor: Ragnarok”

Nate Nelson, Features Reporter

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Seventeen films in, it is yet to be seen if Marvel knows where it’s going. In past reviews, I’ve been forthright about my doubts in the Marvel machine, particularly with phase three. Movies like “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” and “Captain America: Civil War” all fell flat, and even “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” managed to be a bit of a disappointment. With the release of “Thor: Ragnarok” this weekend, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is officially long enough to go to an R-rated movie without its parents. And for the first time since the first “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Marvel proves that they’re finally doing something right. They just need to let the director do his job.

“Thor: Ragnarok” isn’t an action film, really. It has action, of course, but let’s be honest, the Marvel movies are more like a long running ensemble comedy series at this point. Luckily, new director Taika Waititi has extensive experience in that regard, with past films like “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” He’s a director known for his wacky comedy and genre send ups, so putting him on Thor was a no brainer. “Ragnarok” is easily the funniest movie Marvel has ever made, but unlike “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Ant-Man,” it doesn’t feel forced. Instead, the film feels like a big party where the director, actors and crew are just having a blast making a film that doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest.

Here’s the thing about Thor. Marvel has just never been able to get the character right, not even once. “Thor” was a rom-com masquerading as a superhero movie, and “Thor: The Dark World” was a messy attempt at making Thor’s world the “Game of Thrones” of the Marvel universe. In the comics, he’s borderline shakespearian, a god with vast familial issues and royal conflicts. Translating that to the screen just hasn’t worked, so shifting him to a funnyman ended up being one of the best decision Marvel has made in a while. And good lord, Chris Hemsworth is hilarious. Who knew he had such comedic chops?

The rest of the cast is just as solid, with Tessa Thompson shining as the unbreakably badass Valkyrie and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was easily the best he had ever been. Up till now, Hulk had basically been relegated to smashing roles, the angry creature of the Marvel universe. In “Ragnarok,” he’s more like an obnoxious 12-year-old who just so happens to be able to throw a car through a wall. He’s a solid foil to Hemsworth’s Thor, and helps sell the whole interstellar road trip concept to audiences. Tom Hiddleston returns once again as Loki, but instead of the villainous character he has been in past films, his characterization is more in line with his comic book persona: that of a mischievous little antihero. It’s a good shift, and lends him to be a bit more relatable, especially after the mountain of awful that was “The Dark World.” Of course, I can’t forget Cate Blanchett as Thor’s sister and the big bad of the film, Hela. She delivers her lines with a heaping sense of self-deprecation, and just chews apart the scenery as an off the hinges goth rocker. It’s just nuts.

I could talk about the writing for a while, but the real star of the film is the scenery. “Thor: Ragnarok” follows in the footsteps of “Doctor Strange” in deviating from the bland realism of early MCU films in favor for a more psychedelic, colorful, Jack Kirby inspired aesthetic. It’s a good move for the cosmic films, especially since Kirby is such a huge influence on the original comics themselves, so “Thor: Ragnarok” ends up being the most visually arresting film Marvel has ever produced. The trash planet of Skarr is particularly interesting, with its saturated colors and unconventional set design. The building, characters, costumes, Jeff Goldblum, everything just screams 1970s psychedelia, and it’s a wonder. The entire film feels like a 1970s heavy metal album cover. I know a lot of other people have been saying that, but that’s no joke. The whole film has a wacky, self aware aesthetic that lends itself well to the road trip nonsense of the plot.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a blast. There’s really no other way to put it. It’s a marked shift from Marvel’s output lately in that Waititi is the sole visionary behind the film. It feels like Waititi film, but with Marvel characters, instead of the other way around. I’d almost be driven to say “Ragnarok” is the best MCU film to date, with the sole competitor in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The film is hilarious, stylized, beautiful and just so flipping fun. It bodes well for Marvel’s future, and as long as they continue to get directors who have quality visions, the MCU might still have a place in cinema. 5/5

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Film in review: “Thor: Ragnarok”